ASTA seminar provides tips for boosting sales

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HONOLULU -- Cruise expert Tom Ogg had one question for the audience of travel agents attending his seminar at the ASTA World Travel Congress here: "Is everyone in the room making enough money selling cruises?"

A "yes" answer might have triggered the shortest seminar in ASTA convention history, but the room full of cruise specialists shouted "no," prompting Ogg to reveal a number of outside-the-box tips for boosting cruise sales, including the following:

• Purchase and learn ACT 2002 or a similar program that enables you to manage your client database.

• Build your own Web site. "Anybody can do it," Ogg said. The key, he said, is to get your niche in the cruise market recognized on a search engine like Google. Ogg's Cruisereviews.com site gets 115,000 hits per day, he said. Ogg recommended www.bruceclay.com as a resource to learn about keywords competitors are using.

• Embrace e-mail marketing. It has the highest response rate and can be delivered free to thousands of potential clients -- but Ogg recommended agents avoid sending unwanted messages.

• Develop a network of referral agents, and pay them commission.

• Establish yourself in the online market. Break into usenet groups and turn around the anti-agent sentiments that are pervasive on newsgroup sites. Get on chatboards and establish yourself as an expert.

• "A cruise is something that requires a lot of sophistication to sell," said Ogg, adding that nothing works better than personal contact. Translation: Don't sit at your desk.

• What's your area of expertise? Put on a seminar to local service and home clubs.

• Publish your own newsletter. Distribute it at your local coffee shop. Offer to come to the shop on Tuesday nights to talk about cruising.

• Target symbiotic businesses. Ask to distribute your newsletter in stores with similar demographics: jewelry stores, formal-wear stores and tanning salons. Offer to share clients with those businesses. It's not competition.

• Don't forget the fax broadcast. "Don't discount it because it didn't work a year ago," said Ogg. If you generate one that's personalized, it will get read and saved, he said.

• List your business in the Yellow Pages.

• Radio advertising is not as expensive as you might think if you focus on your demographics. Remind listeners that prices change and bookings should be made now.

• Small magazine ads will work if they are specific and there aren't any similar ads in the same publication.

• Rethink your client gift ideas. Wine is nice but unimaginative.

• Get your clients to refer their friends to you.

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